Despite being six points out of a playoff spot, the Chicago Blackhawks are nowhere close to being a Stanley Cup contender. Whether they’d like to admit it or not, they’ve entered a retooling phase within the last two years. As fans, we should be patient and lower our expectations for this team.
The Chicago Blackhawks did not make a single trade before Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline after dropping two games over the weekend to Central Division rivals.
Overall, the front office has been fairly quiet since they traded Jan Rutta to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Slater Koekkoek on January 11. Rumors had circulated that the Blackhawks asked if defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook would waive their no-movement clauses, but general manager Stan Bowman quickly refuted those claims as had the players themselves. A month ago, forwards Chris Kunitz and John Hayden were reported to be on the market.
Other than trade speculation surrounding Artem Anisimov, the deadline plans of the Chicago Blackhawks weren’t talked about much. Now we know that’s because they didn’t want to just make a trade to make one. On Monday, Stan Bowman spoke about why the ‘Hawks held back on dealing at the deadline.
"“We were never in that rental market where we were going to be trying chase players that had expiring contracts. So, we were always looking at potential real trades where you’re trading more of a filling one need and by trading an area where maybe you have a surplus, but we had a lot of talks and it just didn’t come together.” – Stan Bowman on the trade deadline (x)"
This is a good thing and like Sam Boland said just a few days ago, good on Stan Bowman for not throwing stuff together to force something that may or may not make the team better. We’ve accused him of doing exactly that with the Artemi Panarin–Brandon Saad and Niklas Hjalmarsson trades, but we can’t go back in time and try to stop him, especially since we don’t know what would’ve happened if those deals hadn’t been made. So let’s give him credit for the work he’s done so far this season (acquiring Dylan Strome and Drake Caggiula, getting rid of Brandon Manning and Jan Rutta) to try and improve the team as much as he possibly can.
To put it lightly, the 2018-2019 Chicago Blackhawks are nowhere near a playoff-caliber team, despite being just six points out of the playoff race. While their scoring is up tremendously from last season, the defense is terrible and the goaltending has been below average. Their possession stats aren’t good at 5-on-5 (20th in Corsi-for percentage and 28th in Fenwick-for percentage) and they’re allowing a ridiculous amount of shots, scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances every game.
I know this has been a frustrating season for everyone, from the Quenneville firing to the two separate eight-game losing streaks to Corey Crawford getting hurt again (he’s back!) to the seven-game win streak followed by a 3-4-0 record since then. The Blackhawks somehow clawed their way back into the playoff conversation only to fall right back out of it.
It’s hard to realize, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Bowman recognized an issue two seasons ago that he realized he needed to address sooner rather than later. Since then, the Chicago Blackhawks have selected top defensive prospects such as Henri Jokiharju, Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, and Ian Mitchell, at the 2017 and 2018 NHL drafts. They acquired more defensemen that have a chance at making the show in previous drafts, as well.
Alex DeBrincat has impressed everyone at the NHL level by being the elite goal scorer everyone projected him to be. Yes, he practically fell in their lap when the 2016 draft got to the 39th pick and 25 teams had passed on him for being “too small.” Clearly, his size has not affected him at all. He’s already hit new highs in goals, assists, and points this season.
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The Blackhawks also have top forward prospects like Philipp Kurashev and Evan Barratt who have a decent chance at making it to the NHL. If they finish out of the playoffs, they’ll most likely have a top 10 pick in the draft to address the lack of forward depth in their system now that they’ve created a deep pool of defensemen for the future.
Bowman and the front office can also make a big splash in free agency in the offseason. They’re set to have around $15 million in cap space with the cap ceiling rising to around $82 million. If they deal Anisimov, they’ll have even more space to go after almost any player available. The Blackhawks can also change things up via trade if they stay patient.
So while we should definitely acknowledge the Chicago Blackhawks are nowhere near a contender this year, they could very well immediately improve over the summer to be a playoff team next year or continue retooling to be one the year after.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact plan the ‘Hawks front office has in place for the future. To me, they’re at least admitting they’re not where they need to be and are addressing the major problems without putting themselves in a big hole they can’t climb out of.
The Chicago Blackhawks are aware of the issues with the team. As fans, we need to give them time to fix what’s wrong and be patient with the process. The window with the current core isn’t closed yet, especially with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews playing the best of hockey of their careers at 30 years old.
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I understand it’s frustrating when the team isn’t good, but they haven’t been bad for very long. Stan Bowman should be given a chance to redeem himself and he’s done fairly well on that tour so far. Give the front office some time to patch the holes in the organization and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re back in the Stanley Cup conversation in just a few years.
Patience is a virtue, ‘Hawks fans. Let’s enjoy the rest of the season and get excited about the future.